General Question Whether Defendant Was “A Law Abiding Person” Violated Sandoval Ruling and Required Reversal.
The prosecutor’s violation of the trial court’s Sandoval ruling required reversal and new trial. Defendant was charged with rape. Prior to trial defendant sought a Sandoval ruling that he could not be cross-examined about a nine-year-old conviction for sexual abuse. The trial court ruled the defendant could not be cross-examined about the sexual abuse conviction because it did “relate to the two charges that are presently before the Court…” [and therefore could unduly prejudice the defendant in the eyes of the jury]. “The prosecutor, despite the court’s Sandoval ruling, asked a series of general questions regarding prior bad acts by defendant, and then questioned him specifically regarding the precluded prior conviction.” The prosecutor started the prohibited line of questioning by asking the defendant whether he was “a law abiding person,” to which the defendant replied that he had been “for the last three years.” The Fourth Department held that the defendant’s answer did not “open the door” to questioning about the sexual abuse conviction, noting that “a defendant opens the door to cross-examination concerning previously-precluded evidence where…’defendant’s testimony was meant to elicit an incorrect jury inference’…”. The Fourth Department stated unequivocally that the “People may not elicit a general statement by asking questions that violate the Sandoval ruling for the sole purpose of circumventing that ruling.” People v Snyder, 1370, KA 11-00316 Fourth Dept. 2-1-13